“You need to take rest now, for four years you have toiled hard for Kalpana”, I told Latif over phone on 31 Oct 2015. He had performed the last rites for Kalpana at the crematorium in the early hours, ending the Love story of 42 years. “I need to tell you everything and show you something, then you might get an idea of what she did for me”, Latif replied. Kalpana had breathed her last at 9.15 pm the previous night.
Later that week I met Latif at his room in Kasba Peth. He hadn’t slept for three nights, he told me. All the memories of four decades were crowding the mind, not letting him sleep. He was finding it difficult to accept that she was just not there. He took out some papers to show me. “Unless I tell you the whole story, you won’t realise what she did for me, and I won’t feel free”, Latif said as he began his narration.
“These are the notes she used to scribble by way of a message for me, when she would leave for the dispensary by 11 am or so. The year as I see from the papers now was 2005. But I can tell you the pattern was the same for all these years.”
The first note was dated 22.9.2005 and the last one of 6.1.2006. These somehow were not thrown away in the dustbin and survived two house moves since 2006. I read the first one which said:
- Didn’t get any money in the morning. I have kept Rs 3.50 for two eggs only.
- If you are going to get things on credit then bring rice, tur dal and milk. Make rice and ambat varan.
- I can’t say if we can pay off the dues by night.
- I will get chapatis.
- I am not feeling well at all and dust is big trouble for my eyes.
- Have you given any thought to what business you want to start?
- Will bring your medicines.
By 2005, Kalpana had stepped into the 67th year and was practising at Wadia Hospital and the homeopathy clinic at Karve Road. Patients came from poor families and did not always have money to pay. Earnings were uncertain and after paying the rent there wasn’t money left for daily living. Two square meals had become a luxury.
“Two accidents had left me physically handicapped to undertake the kind of work that I was capable of. The first accident broke my back literally and I couldn’t lift weights. I had been undertaking sugar machinery repair and maintenance work with my friends. But this accident put restrictions on my travel. The second one was worse, as the bolt from a speeding truck had hit my right eye. That left only one eye for me. I was trying to make and sell some wire puzzles for school children at this time. That’s the reference to the business in Kalpana’s note.” Latif explained. “Kalpana kept going for her practice, even though she was sick. There was no go. Yet she never forgot anything about me. That included not only the medicines but also my beedis”
“Didn’t she object to your smoking?”
“She would tell me at night to give up smoking, yet the next day she would keep some money for it. She knew my situation and my mind. The thought that I wasn’t able to earn regular income was gnawing at me. There was no way I could settle my mind. Beedi was no help but a temporary relief. At night, till the very end, she would gently pat my palm to say she was with me no matter what was happening.”
She writes on 11.10.2005 that ‘I have kept Rs 16 for yesterday’s milk and eggs and for beedis.”
Latif tells me that this kind of life was unimaginable for anyone coming from the family that Kalpana belonged to. Top banker that her father was, he had provided a more than comfortable life to his children. That’s how Kalpana could learn music and dance while at school. She did her MBBS from Gwalior and then got her MD in Paediatrics from Delhi. She could get a chance to work in UK for a couple of years. It wasn’t difficult for the Left-leaning Kalpana to get drawn to the movement. She met Latif when both were fresh entrants to the movement and were asked to campaign in the tribal belt of Dadra Nagar Haveli. She had been in touch with Godavari Parulekar who organised the tribal people and led their struggle for protection of their rights. Latif was drawn into the trade union movement, following an eight year stint in a manufacturing company in Pune. After eight years he still held a temporary post and at the first whiff of his trade union activities, the management showed him the gate. He had then started reading literature and was impressed by the Communist manifesto.
Returning to Pune in 1972 after the campaign in Nagar Haveli they started work in the ad hoc committee of the Worker’s Party in Pune. Two things became clear to Latif as months passed. Latif realised that his friendship with Kalpana was slowly moving to another level. At the same time, given his economic condition and orthodox family, matrimony was simply unthinkable. Kalpana’s father had only one question about Latif’s education and earning capacity. Sonalkars had no difficulty with Latif being a Muslim. He didn’t practice religion. Latif’s elder sister-in-law sensed that his relationship with Kalpana was getting closer. She dropped a hint to Kalpana saying they could not think of a match for Latif until they could provide a separate room for him.
Kalpana now understood why Latif wasn’t pushing things to their conclusion. She popped the question riding pillion behind Latif on the Poona Bombay Road. Latif stopped the scooter at the corner and said ‘Yes’. They got married in 1973 in the registrar’s office in the presence of Sonalkars. From Latif’s side two budding playwrights turned up as witnesses: Harikisan Dubey and Texas Gaikwad. Ideology brought the two soul mates together, but it was the purity of spirit that cemented their union that was to last 42 years.
Latif recounts the kind of places they rented, after the first six months during which Kalpana got a job in Andhra Pradesh immediately after their marriage. During their absence Latif’s brother had gone to the Sonalkars to tell them categorically that neither Kalpana nor Latif would be accepted back in the Javalekar household. When the couple returned to Pune, their livelihood depended upon the meagre earnings of a nascent medical practice and Latif’s job with a small scale start up developing numerically controlled machines. Kalpana’s dispensary was set up in a Muslim neighbourhood in the eastern part of Pune, made up of poor families. The couple would rent a place and pay up a deposit to the landlord. When rent became overdue, the landlord would draw the arrears from the deposit. Once the deposit ran out, they would move to another cheaper place. There were times, Latif recalls, when they had vacated a place with nowhere to go. Kalpana never complained about it. She fought on gamely. She knew Latif too had suffered hardships. He had slept for days on the steps of shops while searching for a place. In one instance, the room they got was 11’ x 4’.
Yet today Latif says that all he did for her would not even add up to one percent of what she had done for him. It was love of a different kind, not one that prospers in middle class minds, with material comforts; it was love that bound the souls and held them together in the face of utter poverty. In the four years and a half that Kalpana lay bedridden paralysed, Latif would take care of her as though she was a baby. He cooked and fed her, cleaned her and sponged her, all the while holding out hope that she would one day regain strength and speech. He used to play act a conversation with one Dr Godbole, a pathologist known to Kalpana. She didn’t know that he was dead and gone. Every day Latif would feign a talk with Dr Godbole and tell him how Kalpana was improving. Listening to this conversation, Kalpana would summon up energy and try to sit up. This routine went on for nearly three years till the end.
Latif regrets a slip he made one day. One afternoon as he bent to make her sit up, a searing pain shot up his spine. He told her to straighten the leg so that the weight would be manageable for him. She tried but couldn’t. Latif said it was important for her to try otherwise the back pain would lay him low. He told her that he would be forced to lie down next to her and then there would be nobody taking care of them. That scenario seemed to have scared her. She would then sit cupping her chin in the palm, lost in worry.
He hadn’t seen her in this kind of mood. Not even when the worst had happened to them in the Party. They had set up the ad hoc committee in 1972 and later this committee gave way to a regular city unit after withdrawal of Emergency. Some established union leaders had joined the party. Their standing and numerical strength soon ensured that the leadership of the unit passed into their hands. The founding detachment receded in the background. Differences arose over internal functioning of the party. Disciplinary action was taken against Javalekars and eventually they were removed from the party in 1987. Even in those days, Kalpana had not lost her verve, though she was disturbed by the happenings. Her work with poor children was cut out and she continued to do that despite all odds. It literally became a hand-to-mouth existence.
You could see her struggle from the notes she scribbled. The note on 19 Oct 2005 says:
“– It’s not at all certain if I can bring Chapatis or anything else.
- Will first keep aside money for commuting tomorrow and then use up the balance. Perhaps that can buy some chapatis.
- If possible, buy milk on credit.”
But now it was 2015. She was totally incapacitated. Latif had earned some money by running Urdu classes. Among his students were some businessmen. That helped. But Latif was getting on in age too. His back would not always hold up. His eyesight had weakened. He was there for her fully and all the time. Her love for him had not diminished one bit. She continued even in that paralysed condition to pat his palm at night in reassurance. She couldn’t imagine a scene when her Latif was not able to take care of himself. She had wanted to mother a child, but that wasn’t to be. Latif had with a heavy heart told her that their economic condition wouldn’t support a child’s upbringing. She had been a friend, comrade, wife and also a mother to him for 38 years. Now she had become a child to him. She didn’t want to be a burden to him in the end. That was her way of expressing supreme love. She would bid adieu to life now. Latif’s physical travails would come to an end.
My suggestion to Latif to take rest as he had toiled for her appeared now to be so utterly foolish. It had brought back to him all the memories of the last 42 years. Every word on the scribbled note now grew big and took the form of Kalpana’s smiling face. She was saying, “My dear Latif, every moment that I spent with you became golden because of our love”.